Episode 91 – Latezeon Balentine

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Meet Latezeon Balentine

LATEZEON BALENTINE is a mom of three boys, a teacher, and founder of September Chances, Inc. – a nonprofit organization created to develop joy in reading, grow literacy, and increase reading fluency. Latezeon is also a Donors Choose Teacher Ambassador, dog lover, an advocate for mental health awareness, and blogger. And she’s got a book on the way, so stay tuned!

Latezeon is an English teacher at Jefferson County High School in Fayette, MS. The school is situated in a small, rural area and the student population sits around 380. It’s a region that has its share of economic challenges, and poverty is a continual issue for many families. Latezeon has some teaching experience in fourth and fifth grade, but most of her teaching has taken place in secondary, which is where she feels at home.

Baptism by Fire

Latezeon recalls the start of her career, when she was hired to fill a long-term substitute position in a primary classroom. She had all the duties of a full-time first year teacher, but the compensation and benefits of a substitute teacher. If that wasn’t challenging enough, her class size continued to grow as the year wore on.

Fortunately, Latezeon pushed through a difficult year one and was offered a full-time contract in Vicksburg, MS the following year. It was still an extremely tough challenge for Latezeon as she balanced full-time teaching, parenting, a part-time job, and the completion of her Master’s degree during this time.

She continued to persevere, however, and things have gradually improved. The work of education is about the outcome, not the income, Latezeon laughs.

Empathy and the Work of Supporting Others

Empathy is evident in so much of Latezeon’s work, whether it’s her care for her boys, her advocacy for the mentally ill, her passion for literacy, her support of other educators through Donors Choose, or even her love of animals. It seems limitless!

When asked where this bottomless empathy comes from, Latezeon points first to her own experiences. She’s lived the pain and hardships of mental illness in the family, and it motivates her to support others struggling in the same ways.

Speaking to her work with Donors Choose (a crowdfunding site for education-related funding campaigns), Latezeon is proud to have raised over $13,000 and supported 20 fully-funded projects for other educators. These include the creation of a food pantry and a hygiene closet at her own school.

“I’m all about helping people reach their goals, because that’s where my heart is,” Latezeon says. “I’ve been a nurse, a counselor, a liaison, an advocate – anything I can be for my kids, I’ve been it!” She’s also currently working on a project to raise money for animal shelters in her area.

Her Vision for September Chances

Latezeon started September Chances in 2014 with the purpose of helping struggling learners outside of the classroom. Over the time since, her focus has shifted from tutoring to book giveaways through Scholastic. She’s a big fan of the $1 books that Scholastic lists each week, and she’s made a lot of progress stocking her classroom bookshelves this way.

She’s also making it the aim of September Chances to provide two $250 scholarships to graduating seniors, and she’s working hard on an initiative to put a free book in the hands of every child in her school district. A love of literacy starts with getting books to kids that resonate with their interests and passions. As September Chances continues to grow and build momentum, Latezeon hopes to support districts across her state and even across the nation. 

What’s Setting Latezeon on 🔥 in Education Today

One passion in education for Latezeon is in the whole area of technology resources for her learners. She sees the applications and devices that are made available to students in other schools and districts, and she wants to bring the same to Jefferson County.

She’s also committed to developing stronger financial literacy programming in high school. She wants her students to have all the information, preparation, and life lessons they’ll need to survive and thrive financially as they move into adulthood.

A Professional Growth Goal: Sketchnotes

In terms of professional growth, Latezeon wants to learn more about sketchnotes. She wants to help her students acquire the vocabulary, techniques, and resources they’ll need to fully leverage this powerful learning strategy.

(*Tim’s Note: For more information on sketchnoting, make sure to check out the books, resources, and videos from Sylvia Duckworth – the sketchnote master!)

An Inlet to Her Outlet

Blogging has become a wonderful outlet for Latezeon. Her posts aren’t as long as others, partly because she recognizes that as a reader, brevity is often best. She calls her blog posts “a little inlet to her outlet.”

A Daily Habit: Building Her PLN

Latezeon started taking Twitter seriously in November of 2018. She plans to do a love tour through her network to introduce herself in a unique way to every single follower, and continues to learn from the amazing connections she’s made there in just a few months.

Voices and Resources That Inspire 

Over on Twitter, Latezeon recommends following @NicholasFerroni, leader of the #NoSummersOff campaign that intends to show how educators actually use their summer holidays.

Latezeon’s picks in edtech tools are Topeka, an AI-powered writing analysis service, and FlipGrid, a popular video platform that seeks to amplify student voice.

With a big passion for books and literacy, you know Latezeon’s book selections are on point. She calls out The Pepper Effect: Tap into the Magic of Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation by Sean Gaillard and One Drop of Kindness by Jeff Kubiak. Follow these authors on Twitter @SMGaillard and @JeffreyKubiak

In the wonderful world of podcasts, Latezeon is listening to The Ed Podcast and Faculty Room. Follow these hosts on Twitter @TheEdPodcast and @Maire_from_NJ

Over on YouTube, Latezeon’s favorite teacher channel is A Classroom Diva. Follow the channel creator, Jessica Nichols, on Instagram @AClassroomDiva

Latezeon and her husband enjoyed binge-watching a number of the latest episodes from Stranger Things 3 on Netflix recently. Predictably, this show is very strange … but it’s been fun to watch how this little group of friends interacts with each other.

We sign off on this conversation, and Latezeon gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for more details!

Connect with Latezeon:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 86 – Pernille Ripp

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Meet Pernille Ripp

PERNILLE RIPP is a prolific blogger, highly recognized speaker, literacy expert, creator of the Global Read Aloud, and the author of several books, including Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. She’s also a Danish educator living in the US, mother of 4, and soulmate to an incredible man that makes it all possible.

Pernille’s context in education is that of a 7th grade English teacher in Oregon, WI. She has the privilege of having her reality checked by 75th students each day, and she enjoys learning from them constantly. Pernille also writes regularly on her blog and frequently shares her learning with other educators around the world.

When Our Best is Not Enough

When Pernille thinks of failures in her education career, she thinks of the moments when her best efforts just haven’t been enough. Yes, she can think of lots of successes in reading and writing and the growth of her learners. But there are other stories and everyday experiences that challenge us as educators and shake our confidence in our own effectiveness.

Sometimes we don’t see the progress that we want to see, and sometimes our students will remain resistant to the passions and skills that we seek to cultivate in them. One thing we can focus on in cases like that, Pernille observes, is to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to avoid contributing to the problem. Even if we can’t be THE solution for a learner, we can strive to at least contribute toward it.

The Power of Pink

Pernille describes the incredible night when Pink asked to personally meet her daughter, a victim of terrible bullying in third grade. She explains some of the trauma that her daughter experienced during the previous year, and calls this surreal experience with Pink as a powerful moment of affirmation and self-confidence that will stay with her daughter forever. (Check out Pernille’s Dear Pink.)

Though her daughter’s story isn’t over, Pernille talks about the power of taking the time and energy to speak life into others by telling them we see them, they’re important, and they matter. The whole experience has also set her daughter on a mission to stand up for other kids who may be struggling in similar ways.

Blogging as a Form of Authentic Self-Reflection

Pernille recalls the very beginning of her blogging journey. Her purpose and intentions have remained as simple as they were at the outset, and the blog remains more about her own reflective process than anything else.

That said, years of consistent and authentic writing have taken her blog further than she could have ever imagined. Many of her closest professional connections and mentors have come from her blogging work, and she owes her speaking engagements and publishing achievements to the organic growth of the blog.

The publishing process requires a thick skin, Pernille observes, and it’s also critical that you understand your core purpose. First and foremost, blogging is about self-reflection and learning. “The reason I publish publicly is because it keeps me honest,” she says.

We actually don’t need more stories from perfect teachers – what we really need is more genuine reflections about what we’ve done, where we’ve failed, and how we’re growing, learning, and improving our practice.

Literacy and Equity in Education

Pernille has focused a lot lately on the roles that literacy and literature play around equity in education. Preserving the status quo often means perpetuating ongoing inequities, so instead of doing that, let’s make it our aim to disrupt norms, she urges. Connect with people who are doing disrupting things, like the authors of Disrupt Texts or the Twitter conversations happening at #CleartheAir.

Pernille is often accused of making her book choices political, but she shrugs that off as inevitable resistance that comes when we amplify the voices of the marginalized.

Children’s Lit Titles on Pernille’s Radar

When she thinks of recent kids’ lit or teen lit titles, a couple of books that have attracted Pernille’s attention include The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, Redwood and Ponytail by K. A. Holt, Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

These stories and others like them are finally being shared, heard, published, and it gives Pernille hope that blind spots in our culture are slowly being eliminated and students are learning to see the world through other people’s eyes.

Pernille’s Professional Goals

Pernille’s goals include continual improvement and growth as a teacher of writing – and particularly, writing as a tool for social change. She’s slowly formulating content for another book as well, and this one will come directly from the learning experiences of her students. Her students have made it clear that they would like to be in a book, and she’s more than happy to amplify their voices.

In the bigger picture, Pernille also wants to remain mindful of life balance: saying yes to large projects also means saying no to other priorities, and it’s important to her to protect the marriage, family, and professional priorities that matter most.

Personal Passions Outside of Education

Pernille is focused on learning how to relax. By nature, she likes to be busy, so she’s working hard to rewire her brain to recognize reading books, hanging out with her kids, cooking, baking, and gardening as productive time. These activities take her away from her computer and so-called “productive activities” in order to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures and relationships more deeply.

Productivity Habits and Hacks

Pernille gives her husband Brandon credit for her productivity, calling him the powerhouse that makes her work possible. He takes care of so much on the home front to create the time she that she needs to meet her professional commitments, and she’s grateful for his support.

She also calls herself a task slayer in the sense that she takes out tasks as quickly as possible. Her blogging practice is quick and efficient, and most of her published pieces are actually first drafts.

She’s also developed her ability to say no and walk away. As a teacher, there’s always more that we can do in our classrooms or on our lesson plans if we are willing to sacrifice personal happiness and relationships. But as human beings, we need to be able to walk away and be content with good enough.

Her motto right now is less learning, more BEING.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice 

Over on Twitter, Pernille shouts out a few inspiring educators worth following: @ValeriaBrownEdu, @DebReese, @JuliaErin80, @TchKimPossible, @TriciaEbarvia, and @NenaGerman.

Pernille’s favorite edtech tool? Her AirPods! As an introvert, she appreciates the power of her AirPods to give her some separation when she needs it.

Her adult-level book picks include Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School, by Carla Shalaby. She’s also been enjoying the poetry of Amanda Lovelace in The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One.

A podcast that Pernille and her teaching team have enjoyed lately is NPR’s More Perfect, hosted by Jad Abumrad. Follow the host on Twitter @JadAbumrad.

Two Netflix shows on Pernille’s radar lately are Derry Girls and Sex Education. The latter was seriously entertaining, but don’t break it out in your middle school classroom any time soon!

We sign off on this conversation, and Pernille gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Pernille:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 79 – Karen Caswell

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Meet Our Guest

KAREN CASWELL is a 4th grade teacher at a large primary school on Australia’s Gold Coast. Her favorite themes in education include relationships, reading, kindness, and global connections. In addition to being a homeroom teacher, Karen does some collegial coaching and is an indigenous champion at her school. She’s also an Apple Certified Teacher, Seesaw Ambassador, the founder of #TLAPdownunder.

Follow Karen on Twitter @kcasw1 and visit her blog at https://www.karencaswell.com/.

Taking Time Away to Recharge the Passion

Karen shares about the time that she pulled completely out of education. After teaching for twenty years, she still loved being a teacher, but she admits to feeling the wear and tear of the bumps and bruises one experiences along the journey.

As a result, she took an extended break away from school to focus on rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. She also did some big picture reflection about where she was and where she wanted to be. She realized she was suffering from a sense of disillusionment more than anything else, and she decided that if she was to return to the profession she wanted to pour her energy and focus primarily into students. Yes, the other parts of the job were still important, but she found that putting the focus primarily on students helped to clarify her mission.

It was also during this time that she discovered the books from Dave Burgess Consulting. To start, she read Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, and Be Real: Educate from the Heart by Tara Martin. Karen credits these books for showing her what is possible in the classroom, helping her become a connected educator, and recharging her vision for education.

What is #TLAPDownUnder?

After getting into the DBC books, Karen was thrilled to connect with Dave Burgess and other authors at the weekly #TLAP chat, but she quickly realized that the time slot was difficult for Australian and Asian educators. With that in mind, she began the #TLAPDownUnder chat, and it’s taken off.

She now sees educators contributing from countries all over Asia, and the relationships formed there have been tremendously encouraging. Dave Burgess has dropped by a couple of times and of course North Americans are free to join in as well, although it may make for a late night or an early morning, depending on your time zone.

Why and How Karen Uses Seesaw in the Classroom

Karen uses Seesaw as a digital portfolio that collects evidence of student learning in her classroom. Since most of her students’ work is now kept on the platform, she no longer has to cart stacks of papers to and from home each day. Parents are kept updated and constantly in the loop with what their children are learning, and students are able to give peers effective feedback and assessment as well.

Because Karen’s class is fully equipped with iPads, her students enjoy creating booksnaps and Real You snaps to represent their personalities and demonstrate their learning.

Professional Commitments and Goals

Outside of Seesaw, Karen has a tremendous passion for helping students find the joy of reading, and it makes her sad to see teaching strategies dampen that joy. She shares strategies with her colleagues about how she grows the will to read in her classroom and even how she finds the time to do more independent reading in the timetable. Recently, Karen has leveraged her global connections in education to form creative writing and read-aloud partnerships with educators like Allyson Apsey, Alicia Ray, and Annick Rauch.

One of her biggest success stories from the last year was when one boy – espousing a well-known dislike for books for some time – actually went to great lengths to find a quiet space in the building in order to finish his book. Win!

“If we’re not giving them times to read independently, we’re not giving them opportunities to practice the very reading and comprehension skills we’re trying to teach them,” she points out. Next up on her professional goals list? Growing a school-wide love of writing as well.

Personal Passions Outside of the Classroom

Bearing a strong and understandable resemblance to her professional goals, Karen thoroughly enjoys reading and has recently been pushing herself to write more often as well. It’s been a fun and rewarding process, and she looks forward to more in the days and years ahead.

Another passion is travel: she and her family look forward to another trip to the southern United States in the near future.

The Power of Routine

Karen’s biggest productivity strategy is routine. For important priorities like exercise, it needs to keep happening on a regular basis – without fail. She’s found that if she takes more of a casual approach, one miss turns into two, which turns into ten. Habits must be maintained to be effective.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Karen’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Karen recommends following Catherine Williams @CathWilliams05 and Tamara Letter @TamaraLetter.

An edtech tool that makes content creation a lot of fun for Karen and her students is Keynote, from Apple.

When asked to recommend a book, Karen points to The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Follow this author on Twitter @JaneHarperAutho. If asked to make a pick from the inspirational reads at Dave Burgess Consulting, Karen goes back to the one that started it all: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.

A podcast that has really inspired Karen is the In Awe podcast from Sarah Johnson. Explore Sarah’s site and connect with this podcast at In Awe to Rise, and follow the producer on Twitter @SarahSaJohnson.

Karen isn’t a big consumer of YouTube videos, but she appreciates the work coming from John Spencer’s channel. His education-related animations are well worth the views!

On Netflix, Karen has two quirky picks that just may get you laughing: The first is Travels with My Father and the second is Upper Middle Bogan.

We sign off on this trans-Pacific conversation, and Karen reminds us of the best ways to find her online. See the links below for details!

See more from Karen:

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.